AUDE: Let’s start with the memories: do you remember your first ever workday that was fully remote? When was it, where did you work back then?
Clare Witty, Culture & Engagement Lead, PepsiCo: I guess that my first fully remote workday was several years ago. At the time I worked for an automotive company that was introducing flexible working hours. They were moving offices and treated it like an opportunity to change the company’s culture from “9-5” to flexible environment, “hot desking” and so on.
One of the big barriers back then was a requirement to have a small VPN token with us. These little things showed us security codes and if somebody forgot to take it, remote work was impossible, so it was perceived as a kind of a big deal. Nowadays it’s much more simple – in PepsiCo I just connect to my home Wi-Fi and off I go.
Imagine that you can travel back in time and talk to yourself before that day you just described. What piece of advice would you have now for Clare-from-the-past?
I think one of the key things would be the use of video. At the beginning of my remote working I would send emails and maybe make a phonecall, but that would be it. Today I prefer videoconferences because they help me maintain the social connections and absorb some energy from my colleagues. Video also helps to make sure that we all concentrate equally – calls without video mean that people are more tempted to multitask, so some conversations are hard, especially in large groups, without everyone being present.
Let’s focus on today now. I’m wondering what’s your daily routine when you work remotely. What do you do to start your day?
I go downstairs and have some breakfast with a cup of tea whilst flicking through my inbox to catch-up with my European colleagues who live in different time zones (some of them are 2 hours ahead). I must admit that I used to be caught at lunch time still in my pyjamas (laugh), but now that virtual working is a permanent reality for me in my current role I have become more disciplined in the way I structure my day – it’s important to shower and get dressed just like you would if you were going into the office. I believe it really alters the way you operate.
My typical schedule consists of lots of videocalls, responding to emails and project management blocks, but I do try to put in some lunchbreaks in my diary and during that time I try to leave my laptop aside. Fridays are the time when me and my team try to do “me-days”, limiting the number of meetings in our diaries and instead trying to dedicate our time to forward planning or self-development e.g. watching a webinar or joining online training courses. ‘Giving back’ is also important and for me this means that Friday afternoon’s are spent visiting my local school and reading with the children – its very rewarding.
When working remotely, should manager share his or her calendar with the team?
I try to be transparent with my team when it comes not only to my calendar, but also how I manage my time. Skype Messenger is perfect for showing when you’re away from computer since it has those little coloured dots next to name. I encourage my team to ping me there anytime. For me it’s important that my team feel that I’m available even though I may not be physically present. In the office we would just turn to our manager and ask “Hey, what do you think about…”, but it’s impossible during remote work – so there should be some virtual replacement.
What’s in your computer toolbox, what’s necessary and what’s optional? Do you stay in digital environment all day or maybe you switch to paper to write down your thoughts sometime?
I think that I spend 90% of my time using online tools: Microsoft Teams, Skype Messaging, email client. But I always have my notebook within reach too, for example, making notes during webinars or one of my videocalls—the physical act of making handwritten notes really helps my concentration.
Remote workers use lots of online tools to cooperate. But do you feel kind of a communication overload sometime? How could we cope with that and communicate to others?
That’s a good question and its definitely something I have had to find my own rhythm with. It can feel overwhelming (and distracting!) to have an overload of information coming from many different sources: email, texts, MS Teams and WhatsApp. Its important to work out how you can operate at your best and to establish clear lines of communication.
Every team should find what works best for them. For example we use our team WhatsApp group as a more informal way to connect eg post photos and celebrating stuff just to bring everyone closer together, but business-critical information is communicated via email.
We also know that remote work might loosen the bonds between co-workers, and as a result – limit the trust inside the team. How can a leader prevent that?
I can understand the theory but actually I have found quite the opposite with my remote team. I feel closer to them since we place a real importance on staying connected – using a blend of formal and informal communication – we have very regular one-to-one videocalls and weekly team meetings and then on top of that we try to be accessible for each other as possible using tools like on Skype messenger and our WhatsApp group.
Nowadays many companies are moving more and more to remote working. Do you think businesses should provide some trainings concerning that workstyle?
Definitely, I believe there is a range of support, training and resources that companies should provide if they want to switch to remote working as smoothly as possible. We must remember that people are at different starting points—some people already work remotely on a regular basis and others might have never done that. We need to make sure all of them will have range of support to rely on.
In PepsiCo we have webinars on Zoom and MS Teams functionalities, we link to articles about remote working via our internal comms platform, share pdfs and guides regarding technicalities. We also try to provide guidance for those who are leading large meetings virtually in order to make those meetings engaging and inclusive. Nobody wants to hold longish meetings where nobody ever interacts with each other.
Successful remote working is actually a skill and something you should put some work into.